Waves of hype often place bands at their crest and leave them floundering in the shallows once they die down.
Such is the case with the Brooklyn-itis that thrust those such as the Dirty Projectors, MGMT and Das Racist into the spotlight in recent years, the latter having announced their split this week. The propensity for the more image-conscious musicista to prefer bands with ‘Brooklyn’ on the ingredients list has thankfully waned, although not disappeared, in 2012.
Yeasayer are one of the bands to emerge with dignity from this epidemic. In fact, they may well have been blissfully unaware of the trends manifesting themselves around them since the release of their breakthrough album ‘Odd Blood’ in 2010.
The band played the Academy 2 just over two years ago, shortly after an appearance at Spain’s Primavera Sound that saw even the site’s walkways jammed thick with festivalgoers. The overflow from the stage was so intense that many ended up watching Yeasayer from a bridge in the distance. Their Academy appearance inspired the same excitement, with the room being packed to capacity and probably a little over.
Audience-wise, the story is different tonight. Significant gaps in the headcount left by the likes who talk over the music and arrive just to say they had been equates to a more relaxed atmosphere and sees Yeasayer come into their own now the pressure has eased somewhat.
As they cut into their set in Manchester, the themes of reinvention and metamorphosis are dominant and emphasised by the set design, which reflects, as their album art, the band’s strong interest in all things visual. As people enter, they are bathed in the neon glow of band’s self-described ‘trippy mirrored sculpture that emits and reflects light’.
Experimentation is also the lifeblood of the band and is at the helm of the evening. Yeasayer seem to have torn their tracks apart, rearranged the order and meshed them together again, but not as we know them. At some points, there are no gaps left between them, conveying the sense of an ongoing journey or a story, rather than a series of performances.
‘O.N.E’, the band’s most recognisable hit, is stripped of its full-throttle electrifying dance riffs as the band take the tempo down to a point that steals it of its dance credentials. This may be a disappointment to those expecting it to be presented as the centrepiece of the evening, but is a typically challenging approach from the Brooklyn outfit. ‘Ambling Alp’ and ‘Madder Red’, however, are pulled off with a familiar energy and are the tracks that get people moving and hollering along.
“We’re going to do an old one now” says ever-dancing vocalist and keyboard player Chris Keating before all instruments mingle to introduce the Eastern shimmer of ‘Wait for the Summer’. This track from 2007’s All Hour Symbols is received particularly well and could well make the crowd feel like they are dancing on a beach in Goa than in the midst of a freezing Monday night in Manchester.
As material from their latest album ‘Fragrant World’ feature quite heavily in the set but are clearly not as recognised by the audience tonight, it’s hard to tell if they will become as popular as tracks from Yeasayer’s first two albums. However, ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ translates particularly well in a live setting and the vocal cumulation of ‘The Devil and the Deed’ in the encore is a high point.
If the band’s strong back catalogue isn’t enough reason to watch Yeasayer live, then their onstage presence is. The band’s dynamism owes a lot to the focus being on each musician as an individual. It’s so easy to flit from watching one to the other as they work away, the various sounds merging to create what should be a disastrous musical chemistry experiment, but comes off as alchemy.
The sharing and splicing of the vocals according to the needs of the song is another indication of the band’s innovative approach and Anand Wilder’s buzzy, meandering riffs, but most of all, his unique voice is another consistently strong point of their live shows.
As Yeasayer steps onwards into the future, don’t expect to find them as you knew them last year, or two years, or three years back. Instead, you can expect challenging, evolving sounds and perspectives, flecked with global influences and visuals and a band determined to find their niche, only to turn their backs on it in search of another.